I was a sportscaster back when women in the field were extremely rare. The long road that took me there began in high school.
“This is your local sports announcer!” says the last line of the caption over my picture in my high school year book.
It was 1973. A time when there were virtually no women sportscasters, save those like Peggy Fleming, who appeared once every four years to comment on Olympic figure skating, and a few women picked not for their journalistic skills or sports knowledge, but primarily for their beauty.
Early in my senior year, my mother faced me across the kitchen table. “What do you want to be?” She peered through cat-eye glasses. “It’s time to find a college.”
I had already longed to be a competitive ice skater – too big and too awkward – and a Broadway actress – mediocre singing voice and limited dancing skills.
I knew I liked an audience, but beyond that, I hadn’t a clue.
The question of my future continued to loom. I was not a highly adept student, having met brick walls in the forms of algebra, chemistry, and French. My class ranking showed I was absolutely “average”, and had it not been for music and drama and speech classes, I, no doubt, would have found myself buried much deeper on the academic depth chart.
Even back in my tender teen years, I realized one should ascertain what they’re interested in and what they’re good at when pondering a career. I adored ice hockey, enjoyed football, and though I didn’t quite understand the curious rules of baseball until I mastered the art of keeping a box score, I would later learn to love the iconic American sport. I held a position on my school’s broadcast crew, a rather rag-tag group of students who did the morning announcements each day. My voice was a natural Alto II and, after years of performing in play productions, my speech was clear, my pronunciation crisp. I also served as statistician on the varsity hockey team. As a member of the squad – don’t scoff, I actually received a varsity letter for my efforts – I often found myself in possession of announcements sent in by the coach.
One morning, I sorted through the requests, and, for reasons I can’t quite explain, I selected all of the sports announcements. I began reading out loud, practicing for the broadcast.
“Girls aren’t sportscasters,” one crew member informed me.
“They just aren’t.” He took the announcements from me.
The next day, I grabbed the sports notices again, and this time two of the boys insisted I had no right to read them. At that moment, the drama teacher, who was the head of the broadcast crew, came into the booth to see what we were arguing about.
“Of course she can read the sports,” he said, rolling his eyes before he walked out the door.
In 1973, the question of a woman being a sportscaster was preposterous. Still, as my yearbook caption attests, that was my goal.
Later, not happy with my new title of in-house sportscaster, the boys on the crew decided I needed opening music and a nickname. So, every morning, before I went on, the theme from Mission Impossible blared through the classrooms and hallways of my school.
“Dant-dant-dan-dah dant-dant-dan-dah … And now, Big Anne with the sports!”
Though I realized the point was to embarrass me, I enjoyed the music and even the sobriquet. Soon, people began to seek me out, athletes and coaches asking if I would read their announcements.
When my mother again cornered me, asking about my future plans, I smiled. “I want to be a sportscaster!”
She stared. “I’m trying to have a serious conversation with you.”
“I want to be a sportscaster.”
She walked away.
In retrospect, I can’t say the whole sportscaster-trek was easy. All along the way, people shook their heads and explained that a woman could not be a sportscaster. Though I was a sports reporter in college, the football, baseball and basketball coaches refused to be interviewed by me and my professors cautioned that my goal was unrealistic. I became a certified amateur sports official in football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball in the hope that someone somewhere would believe I understood sports well enough to sit behind a microphone. I diligently read the sports pages everyday and Sports Illustrated weekly cover-to-cover. Still, I was 28 before I got my first TV job, which led to four more stations where I reported and anchored sports at both the local and national levels, including a stint at ESPN where I anchored SportsCenter.
I used to wonder if I would have aspired to sportscasting had I’d known I would “age out”, an unfortunate consequence of being a woman who plies her trade in front of a camera. The answer is, yes! Of course! I wouldn’t have missed those fascinating years for anything. And I’m sometimes reminded when I face my high school students that, had I not been a reporter, I would not be teaching them journalism today.
In hindsight, I would tell my teenage self that planning for the future is a tricky task, one filled with myriad opportunities and diverse, unexpected paths. Be open to new ideas. Don’t be afraid when life surprises you. The thrill is in the challenge.
Anne Montgomery’s novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other? The Scent of Rain is available at https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780996390149 and wherever books are sold.